"I am seeing a lot of people with permanent disabilities. They’re not the same people they were before they had COVID," says Kenyatta Carroll, pictured here. Credit: Hennepin Health

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Kenyata Carroll, 31, registered nurse, Hennepin County Medical Center, ICU

When COVID first started we were getting a lot of people of color. Now, I’m seeing a lot more Caucasians, people from rural areas, people who are unvaccinated or have only one shot. 

Also, when COVID started I was seeing older people, people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. As of lately, I’ve seen a huge variety. I see people the same age as me or younger. COVID only being dangerous for older people—that belief is out the window. Comorbidities do play a significant role. The younger people coming in may be obese, they may have asthma. During my last shift, nine of the 24 patients in the unit had active COVID cases. 

I am seeing more patients that we have to physically put on their bellies. With this Omicron variant, it does seem like we are having to prone a lot more patients. It can be physically draining. 

A doctor has to be in the room just in case something goes wrong. You have four people helping you flip the patient. Depending on the size of the patient, sometimes it can take five people. We have a whole proning team at the hospital for these situations. The team includes a physical therapist and an occupational therapist. They take turns because they’re also seeing patients throughout the hospital. Setting up can take 15 minutes, and then executing the plan can take another 10 to 15 minutes. 

Patients prone for 15 hours. We sedate them heavily and make sure they’re paralyzed, because we don’t want them waking up. Sometimes I’ll prone the same patient three times, sometimes five times. It really depends on what they need. 

If it comes to the point where we’ve literally done all we can and the patient isn’t getting better, then we have a discussion with the family. That probably happens once a week or once every two weeks. 

I’m not seeing as many people die from it as before. But I am seeing a lot of people with permanent disabilities. They’re not the same people they were before they had COVID. They’re completely lost the strength of their extremities from being in bed and sedated for a long time.

The nurses do a great job of making sure no worker is going to be struggling or drowning. If you mention you didn’t take a break, they’ll make you take a break. I think it’s manageable because of the support we’re getting from our charge nurses, and because of staff constantly picking up extra hours. 

We talk casual all the time. One of the nurses just got back from maternity leave. We talk about her baby. The nurses in school, we talk about school all the time. If there’s a Vikings game going on during the end of your shift, we talk about how terrible it’s going to be to get our cars out of downtown. 

Joey Peters

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously...